Mashantucket Reservation, CT- 8/1/14: A series of storms rolled up the east coast from the Bahamas up through New England. Harsh winds and strong rain softened up the surfaces for a big blow from hail much like a series of jabs can set up a strong power punch. The harsh weather outside reflected what was going on inside the Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut. Lion Fight 17 had brought a thunderstorm of Muay Thai action that few who saw it will forget. I must say, if you are looking for awesome action, exciting techniques, and awesome aerial displays you don’t need to go to Glory, you can definitely get your fill from the high-class Muay Thai in the Lion Fight Promotions!
This night’s line-up featured some great matches and re-matches, and if you had never seen an actual Lumpini Champion in action live, this was a great opportunity. Scott Kent and Christine Toledo had brought Malaipet Sasiprapa to the States for a second match-up against Philadelphia’s Justin Greskiewicz. Also on the card as the co-main event, Brazil’s Cosmo Alexandre was matched-up against Atlanta’s Jo Nattawut. The professional undercard had great talent in the likes of Brett Hlavacek and Cyrus Washington, Carlos Lopez and Rami Ibrahim, Victor Saravia and Andy Singh, and Tim Amorim versus second time last minute replacement, Pedro Gonzalez. Even the amateur preliminaries were exciting, entertaining bouts pairing local talent and some tough out-of-towners.
In the Main Event, a confident and energized Purple People Eater aka Justin Greskiewicz started well, as he came out jabbing, and probing Malaipet’s defense. Everything was going according to plan until thirty seconds into the fight, when Malaipet countered a probing low kick with a solid overhand right that landed flush on Justin’s temple sending him clattering to the canvas quickly. Running on auto-pilot at this point, Greskiewicz returned to his feet, wobbled on his rubbery legs, and then pulled himself together in time to beat the count and continue. The dazed Greskiewicz reverted to his hard-wired programming; advance and attack. As he came forward, trying to reassert himself and recover the fight if not the round, Malaipet circled and moved around and countered Justin’s punches with hard shin kicks to the ribs and underarms. Somehow, Justin made it through the first round and back to his corner for a refresher. The minute rest helped a lot, as Greskiewicz came out back in form for the second. Although by no means dominant, Justin was more accurate and effective with his boxing. He landed some hard shots to Malaipet’s head and body, pushing the thickly muscled Thai backwards and into a circling pattern, but not hurting him. At the same time, Sasiprapa continued to pepper Greskiewicz with hard punches and more kicks to the body. By the end of the second round, Justin’s latissimus muscles had turned the same dark purple hue of his trunks. Malaipet had tasted Justin’s power in the first two rounds and seemed to be unimpressed as the third round started. He began to clown around, sticking out his tongue and shaking his head when hit. He was baiting Justin to come at him, like holding a fat steak in front of a hungry dog’s eyes. Undaunted, Greskiewicz advanced, landing a clean 1-2 combination. Malaipet shrugged it off, again clowning. Justin pressed forward, closing the distance and trying to land some elbows. With some smooth footwork, the thick Thai avoided the attack and swept Justin to the ground loudly. Now behind three rounds and an 8-count, Greskiewicz would have to sell out in the last two stanzas if he was to stake any claim on victory. He came out of the corner under control but more intense with a more consistent pace. He had mentioned to me previously that he expected Malaipet’s conditioning to be a weakness in his game, and that he would fade as the rounds went on. Attacking with good boxing skills and combinations, Greskiewicz managed to cut Malaipet in the corner of his eye. Malaipet’s reaction to the more oppressive Greskiewicz was stolid, more serious now, with no clowning. I was briefly reminded of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV when he got cut, or James “the Grim Reaper” Roper in The Great White Hype, taking a good shot as an insult and hitting the switch to really turn his game on. Going into the final stanza, Justin knew he was behind on the cards, at least 3 rounds to 1 and that pesky early knock-down. Still under control, knowing that Sasisprapa was looking for that over-aggressive movement to counter hard, Greskiewicz attacked from distance. He landed a clean high teep to Malaipet’s face, snapping his head back, and giving notice that Justin wasn’t ready to admit defeat just yet. It seemed as if Justin’s comment about the older Thai’s conditioning was ringing true as Malaipet threw less and less, and defended more and more. This allowed Justin to rack up points in the round. However, when Malaipet felt Justin taking too much momentum, he would fire back effectively and not just coast through the round. The final decision was a Unanimous Decision in favor of the Lumpini Champion, Malaipet Sasiprapa.
In the Co-Main Event, Jo Nattawut took on Cosmo Alexandre in what looked as much like a professional fight in Thailand as almost any fight I’ve seen in the US. They both took their stances and bouncing rhythms early and began the slow feeling out first round typical of fight in the big stadiums in Thailand. Once in a while one of the combatants would land a sharp strike, countered equally by the other. It was the slow steady build up that the true fans of Muay Thai can appreciate, much like the Ram Muay/Wai Kru. Unfortunately, not everyone in the crowd was an educated fan of Muay Thai. It was one drunk asshole, who just wanted to see some violence who repeatedly shouted silliness into the ring, things like “kill ‘im”, “rip his fuckin’ head off”, and other lame standards. Undaunted, and not acknowledging the idiot, the fighters moved on, and in to the second round. Cosmo seemed to be testing Jo’s power, taking a couple of shots, in order to land a hard on in return. The pace had picked up a tick, as both fighters used quick punches to set up leg and body kicks, and both countered well when hit. As the rounds progressed, so did the action and amount of power shots. More knees from both fighters, more kicks to the head from each marked the passage of time. In the third and fourth, Cosmo’s Defense First style allowed Jo to dictate the pace and get off clean shots consistently over the two rounds. Alexandre did take the opportunity to explode in a few well-placed flurries and aerial attacks. It seemed to me that Nattawut was, however, starting the exchanges and finishing them. The fifth round was somewhat less than exciting. A strong throw by Jo early was equalized by one from Cosmo towards the end, with not too much in the middle. The Split Decision went to Nattawut, 48-47, 47-48, 48-47.
In a very interesting rematch, Cyrus Washington would take on Brett Hlavacek. Brett had very recently taken Cyrus’ WBC title in a hard-fought battle at Chris Tran’s great Warrior’s Cup promotion in New Jersey. Although the belt was not up for grabs, a shot at vengeance was. This type of rematch is often great motivation for the guy who had lost the first. They often rededicate and refocus themselves, pushing to another level during training. However, it appeared that Brett had counted on that and trained harder and more effectively than ever before. Brett came out in the best shape I have ever seen him in, and looked not only confident, as he usually is, but also focused, and serious. Cyrus came out toned and ready as ever. At the bell, Cyrus came out swinging for the fences, trying to punish Brett and possibly hurt him early. Brett, however, was on his defensive game, blocking or evading most of Cyrus’ shots. In a short clinch, Brett grazed Cyrus’ eyebrow with a rising elbow. It didn’t land hard and flush, but just enough to open a cut and start a trickle of blood between Cyrus’ eyes. The fight progressed with an intense pace, with both fighters flashing elbows and power kicks. At one point, Brett landed an elbow and went to finish the combo with a jumping knee, Cyrus spotted it coming, and stepped around into a safe position and swept the already airborne Brett, flipping him upside down, landing in a heap on the back of his neck. Brett smiled, picked himself up, and a moment later landed a straight right hand flush to Cyrus’ chin, sending Washington to the mat for an 8 count. The rounded ended with Brett pinning Cyrus to the ropes and peeking over his shoulder to watch himself on the big screen. He landed a few lateral knees to Cyrus’ flank then pushed off and landed a nice elbow at the bell. This caught Cyrus’ attention. From then on, Cyrus would try to press and push the pace, desperate to even the score and take the victory. As Cyrus pressed forward, he was stepping into Brett’s range. Brett used his quick hands and good movement landing some flashy and effective blows, including a teep to the face, some good elbows, and a nice double round-kick going from Cyrus’ body then quickly up to his head. The fourth round slowed the output a bit, as each man seemed to be resting up for the final showdown. In that final round, Cyrus’ used a savvy right feint to set up and land a hard left hook to Brett’s head and followed that trying to take the momentum, round and possibly the fight. Brett tried to smother Cyrus’ attacks, but didn’t go on the offensive in return. He seemed to be shutting the engines down and relying on the rounds he had banked as well as that knock down. The decision was one of the only weird ones of the night, as one judge had it 47-47, one 48-46 and the last 48-45 for a majority decision for Hlavacek.
In other notable pro action, Rami Ibrahim suffered a tough loss to the taller, longer, quicker and stronger Carlos Lopez by Unanimous Decision: 49-46, 49-46, 50-44. An acrobatic aerial attack from Andy Singh was shot down by the grounded, steady approach of Victor Saravia. Saravia won by TKO in the fourth round. In his second pro fight, Tim Amorim learned a valuable lesson; don’t sleep on last minute replacements. The always game Pedro Gonzalez kept up his usual bull-rushing style, driving Tim to the ropes and dropping him with a right hook. The game Amorim played matador as well as he could, but the ring was not big enough for him to keep a distance. He was eventually bullied into a TKO loss in the fourth round.
The amateur bouts were exciting and good match-ups, although I would like to see them lose the head-gear and shin pads. The pro fights were top notch, and the Main Event did not disappoint. It was a great night that showed not only great Muay Thai technique, but the heart, discipline and character of Thai-boxers that help build the reputation and mystique of our beloved Art of Eight Limbs.
Jared Tipton def Jose Rivera by UD
Billy Keenan def Chanon Kuldaree by SD
Bryce Lawrence def Stephane Smarth by UD
Nicole Scimeme def Jessica Palencar by UD
Patrick Rivera def Nate King by UD